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Time off for mental health: Why is this not the norm?

A recent article went viral when a woman requested a day off for mental health and her CEO was surprisingly supportive. Madalyn Parker left an out-of-office reply during her sick leave, “Hey team, I am taking today and tomorrow to focus on my mental health. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and back to 100%.” Her boss replied to her message, “Hey Madalyn, I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”

Madalyn shared his response on Twitter and the story went viral. Some comments indicated that this support and post was just marketing for the organization. Maybe. But, at a deeper level, it shows a commitment to employee well-being. Madalyn does not have to worry about repercussions for taking a day to rejuvenate her mind. She will come back to work refreshed and likely more motivated because of this type of support. The surprising thing should not be that the CEO supported her decision, but rather that this is not the norm or "standard practice at all organizations," as the CEO commented.

I believe this issue comes back to respect and trust in human capital practices in organizations. Being supportive of an employee who needs a mental health day does not hinder work performance -- if anything, I believe managers and companies that support, respect, and care for their employees as human beings (not just resources), ultimately prevail. This type of support builds leadership and employee trust which is vital to employee retention and motivation. As managers and decision makers, we must create and amend policies with empathy. We want our talent to perform to the best of their ability, and we already know this means supporting their physical well-being, but we must take it a step further to support mental health, as well. Establishing a culture and policies that foster trust and support for employees will only lead to success for all stakeholders.


Megan Peiffer is a Graduate Assistant in the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development at Villanova University. She also serves as President of the VUSHRM chapter. Learn more about her here and connect with her on LinkedIn!

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